John 4:5-42 – The 3rd Sunday of Lent – for Sunday, March 23, 2014
“Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city…” (John 4:28)
Though none stayed long, she didn’t mind. None of the men, and it was usually men, wanted to spend much time with her. They only sought a quick version of her story, and a guess at where Jesus might be now. A few lingered to debate her, to prove she knew less than she did. She didn’t mind. Let the fools argue her credibility or memory or honesty. If they wanted to waste time and breath on her, rather than seeking the Nazarene, that wasn’t her problem.
From the coast, they came. From Jerusalem, they came. From faraway cities she’d only imagined like Damascus and nearby villages (though she’d never been to them) like Tirathana and Neapolis.
By now she could describe meeting Jesus in a handful of sentences.
Which wasn’t too different than telling about her last “husband,” except everything about Jesus was good. Not long after her last husband disappeared, instead of talking about how he stole her money, how he demanded she position meat on one side of the plate and vegetables on the other, or how he stunk like swine no matter how often he bathed, or the bruises after a beating that were hidden by her clothes, she could sum him up in one spare sentence: he slunk out one day to tend sheep, fell off a cliff and died . . .
(Which wasn’t true. But he’d screwed her and left her, like every man who only wanted to take and take and take. End of story.)
When sharing about Jesus, her first accounts weren’t brief. The villagers—even the old rabbi at the synagogue who’d spit on her more than once—had wanted the long version. They milked her for every detail, word, pause and gesture that she’d witnessed at the well with the Nazarene. What did he say? How did he say it? Did he talk about the miracle at Cana? Did he know your name before you told him?
A Pharisee, who boasted about his journey from Caesarea, demanded she tell him if Jesus’ sandals were worn out or unblemished. In his pompous tone, he asked about the type of leather and if she’d seen the soles of his sandals . . . until she shouted that she didn’t look at his feet, but only his face. (A face she couldn’t get out of her mind, thank God, because Jesus’ eyes had gazed at her with compassion, as if she were the only person in the world.) And why was the Pharisee interested in the damn sandals, anyway?
“Some say he doesn’t touch the ground when he walks, whore.”
She laughed at the scrawny Pharisee. Laughed at what he called her. Laughed at his stupidity. Laughed at him, knowing even if he found the Nazarene, he’d only keep asking the wrong questions.
On they came to Jacob’s Well. More and more, she only told the quick story . . .
Yes, Jesus seemed to know everything about me.
Yes, he never drank the water.
Yes, he talked about living water.
What did that mean, they would ask?
That our Living God loves even me, she would say.
They would nod. They’d look doubtful or hopeful or bewildered or all three. They’d gaze into the well to see if it really had water. And since it did, why didn’t it appear . . . special? Why did it look so . . . normal? Some drank from the well. Some refused to. Many gave money, which she didn’t want, but they’d toss coins to the ground or press them into her hand.
Everyone asked about the jar perched by the well. It was the one she’d left after talking with Jesus. No one touched it. Like all water jars, it was clay, had a few cracks, a sweat-stained handle. Every household, the poorest, the richest, had at least one. It was like all others; like no others.
“Is that the jar?”
Yes, she would answer.
And then off they’d go, thirst quenched or unquenched, searching for the prophet. Even if they found him, would it matter? So many wanted to trick him or trouble him with their troubles. So many came to the well for a quick fix, a story with an easy ending, seeking words as if an incantation to cure ills or conjure the future or pay debts.
Hadn’t they paid attention to her story? Jesus had listened to her. He had treated her as an equal. He had wanted her to be honest . . . and when she told him everything—everything—he didn’t judge her. And yet, he did. He judged her blindness and deafness and foolishness about forgetting how lovely and loved she was in the eyes of God.
They said the messiah would come to save the world. All she knew was that the messiah revealed the love possible in the world right now.
The sun slumped on the horizon, shadows lengthened. She heard sandals scratch the dirt. Another approached. She would tell her tale once more today and then return to her solitary room. Before she greeted the next pilgrim, he spoke.
“That’s the jar I bought, isn’t it?”
The open space around Jacob’s Well seemed to shrink. The long shadows of the late afternoon grew cold. This was no longer a safe place. She knew the harsh tones of his speech. She knew how he smelled like a pig. She knew how hard he could slap her cheeks. She knew how much he had taken from her.
She pivoted to face her last husband, who had never been her husband.
“I hear you’re getting famous, whore. I hear you get money to talk about that fool from Nazareth. And I hear you tell everyone I died.”
She kept silent, now seeing him as she never could before. He took from people. He hurt people. He only thought of himself. He spoke hateful words. How could she have once viewed him, or any of the men in her life, as someone worth being with? Why would anyone spend time with people that only hurt or insulted or criticized?
“I need a meal and a drink.” He smirked. “But not water, something stronger. Maybe, if you’re lucky, I’ll stay the night.” He stepped close, harshly grabbing her arm. “And I want your money.” He gestured toward the leather pouch tied to her belt.
She jerked back, broke his grip, stumbled against the well.
He stretched out his arm, fist closed. Then he opened his fist. “Give me the money. Now.”
She unstrapped the leather pouch.
He grinned. “That’s my good little whore.”
She loosened the tie around the bag, dangled it over the well, and let the coins tumble out. They sparkled in the fading light, bounced off the well’s stone side, a sound like spring rain, and then the money splashed softly, far down in the well.
Her last husband leaned over the edge of well, arms flailing for the coins long gone.
She grabbed the water jar, the one he had purchased (with her money), and the one all the travelers and sojourners and pilgrims marveled at, and smashed it against the back of his head.
He tumbled into the well, his splash much louder than the coins.
She leaned over the edge, in the waning light of day. It appeared he was treading water, glaring at her.
“Throw the rope. Help me! Get me out of here!”
“You said you were thirsty. All I had was water.”
The woman sauntered away from the well, thinking someone—maybe the next pilgrim or a villager needing water—would be the one to drag him from the depths. Or maybe no one would come. After all, tomorrow was the Sabbath. Work wasn’t allowed. All the Samaritan wives would’ve secured enough water to last for several days.
She left early in the morning of the next day. She had tucked another pouch of coins under her mattress. Her sister lived in Jerusalem. It would take two long days of walking to get there. She heard Jesus might be in Jerusalem, or perhaps Jericho. Maybe she’d see the Nazarene again . . . but if not, that would be fine. He had already given her everything she needed.
Jesus had given her herself. She strode toward Jerusalem, a few coins clinking in her pocket, the only clothes she owned on her back. She believed she was the richest person in the entire world.